Matt Levinson's work life is filled with grief, and that's exactly what he signed up for.
The 35-year-old Pikesville native recognized in high school, when he spent summers at the family funeral business, the gravity of the work and the pride in doing it well alongside his father, grandfather, great uncle, cousin and other longtime employees.
Levinson is now a vice president at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc. and the fifth and youngest generation to help run the funeral home, which opened to serve the Jewish community in 1892.
"We help families at the most difficult time of their lives," he said. "What we do is so important."
Levinson returned each summer in high school and in college to Sol Levinson, now operated by three generations of family members. After he graduated from the University of Delaware, he entered a two-year mortuary science program at Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville.
He's worked at the funeral home full time ever since.
Levinson said he focuses on ensuring the experience is smooth and according to religious traditions, which date back much farther than the Levinson family's role in them.
It's crucially important the funeral home get everything right, or risk making a hard time all the more difficult, he said. Levinson wants bereaved families to make one phone call to the funeral home and not worry about any details, from preparation for the service to the newspaper death notice.
That doesn't give the funeral home much time. Jewish people are buried as soon as possible to honor the dead, though not on the Sabbath.
But as tied to all of the customs and rituals as the funeral home is, Levinson said it also must keep up with modern times. Sol Levinson opened an office in Columbia a couple of years ago, providing services for Howard County families, in addition to the funeral home's base in Pikesville.
It's also turned to technology where it can help, for example, allowing family members who can't make a funeral to watch it on the company website.
And now he said the family wants to honor the funeral home's 125th anniversary with volunteer service, including soup kits for the hungry, hand warmers for the elderly and blessing bags for the homeless.
"Growing up, people always asked if I was going into the family business," he said. "I didn't know as a young child, but when I started working there in high school I realized it was something I'd like to do and I'm fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go into a family business."
Levinson said he believes it's rare to find companies employing a fifth generation, even more so for funeral homes, which are increasingly corporate owned.
He hopes to maintain the bonds previous Levinsons have developed with local rabbis, synagogues and community groups. He'd like to keep the business thriving so his children will have the chance to carry it on.